The tearjerker Titanic Memorial inside Macy’s

StrausportraitWhen the Titanic met its end in the icy Atlantic early in the morning of April 15, 1912, many very rich passengers went down with the ship.

Among them were Ida Straus and her husband, Isidor, the German-born department store magnate who had owned Macy’s since the late 1800s.

Ida and Isidor had an exceptionally loving marriage. After an iceberg ripped the ship and women were being urged into lifeboats, Mrs. Straus refused. “As we have lived, so will we die together,” she reportedly said.


“They expressed themselves as fully prepared to die, and calmly sat down on steamer chairs on the glass-enclosed Deck A, prepared to meet their fate,” wrote wealthy New Yorker Archibald Gracie, who was with the couple that terrible night.

StraussunheadlineIsidor Straus’ death hit his Macy’s employees hard—which is almost impossible to imagine today, when CEOs are not exactly beloved by their underlings.

“‘Mr. Isidor,’ as he was known, regularly walked the shop floor, a pink carnation boutonnière stuck in the lapel of his dark suit jacket as he greeted workers by name,” according to a 2012 article in The Jewish Daily Forward.

Straus felt a sense of responsibility to his employees. He created a mutual aid society, offered basic health insurance, and built a cafeteria that served up hot (and subsidized) meals.

StraushebrewAfter the news emerged that he was lost at sea, Macy’s employees “contributed what little they could afford to create a memorial plaque for their boss,” and his wife, reported the Forward.

The plaque was ceremoniously unveiled in June 1913 in the Macy’s cafeteria Isidor Straus built.

In attendance were 5,000 employees and the Straus’ surviving family members. A century later, the bronze plaque is still on display at Macy’s in an entrance on 34th Street.

“Their lives were beautiful and their deaths glorious,” reads the inscription on the tablet, described as “a voluntary token of sorrowing employees.”

[Third image:; fourth image: a Yiddish songbook “Sacrifices of the Ship Titanic”]

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16 Responses to “The tearjerker Titanic Memorial inside Macy’s”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    I really wonder how many workers feel this way about their employers today! How lovely and how poignant!

    Bravo!!! Both of them were so brave!

  2. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Sometimes the tales of the Titanic’s drama seem a bit ‘enhanced by time’; However, I would like to think the scene with Mrs. Straus was true.

    “Legend has it” she was ushered into a Life Boat. When the couple were informed they could not escape the failing ship together, as only women and children were allowed into the small crafts, MRS STRAUS STEPPED BACK OUT. There, she made a statement about not leaving her husband. They may have last been seen elsewhere, but I find THIS version a Valentine into Eternity.

    It would be easy to believe it was Mrs. Straus who was the outstanding half of the pair. Indeed, it is a magnificent thought – her love-for-him being that intense; But it is also an equally beautiful concept that Mr. Straus had inspired such extreme affection.

    • Penelope Bianchi Says:

      Your comment has enhanced the story immeasurably! Bravo! It is the best story ever; and it definitely rings true! What a lovely story!!!
      I buy it all……she adored him; and he deserved it. She chose to go down with him. I must say; faced with the same choice…..I would chose the same. I adore my husband. They were 63 and 67; we are a bit older…(yikes! I am 69 and he is 77!) I would chose the same!

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I would like to believe this story of love and devotion as well. All we have to go on is Archibald Gracie’s account, published in 1913.

  4. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Penelope Bianchi – I too, would not want to live on without my darl’n Hubby of 35yrs. (We are behind you and your husband just a few years in age.) I would never harm myself if I survived, but I might pitch-a-tent at the cemetery and linger, awaiting MY TURN.

    I wonder how many more readers of this splendid site, mirror our feelings of great love for their husband or wife?

    • Caryl Koses Says:

      I certainly do.We’really both in our late 70s and when we go to sing at assisted living All those widows with their walkers is so damn depressing.We’ve been together 57 years .My dearie just found out he’s now cancer free so we may still have years together. I still miss my home town,Manhattan, sometimes .At least twice a week !

  5. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    LOVE THIS!!! And it is a “splendid site”! This is the beauty of the internet!!!
    I think we are in the minority….at least here in Southern-Central California where we live….I try to hang out with the ones who love each other! (Some I fear for their lives!!!) I wish I were kidding!

  6. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    (Not the ones who love each other…..the ones who obviously DON”T) Those are the ones whom I fear for their lives!

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I can speak for a member of my own family, who finds that life without her soul mate of 47 years is unbearable. It is not hard to relate to Mrs. Straus and understand her choice to stay on board.

    • Penelope Bianchi Says:

      I know of a story related to this feeling. A neighbor and friend of my parents was Henry Dreyfus. (his work is in the Cooper Hewitt); he designed most of our industrial things …phones, etc. (Between 1940 and 1970) roughly! He lived in Pasadena…and was devoted to his wife..and vice-versa. His wife was dying of breast cancer in her 60’s; and he did not want to live without her. They pretended they were going to Europe; and they went to their attorney to “get their affairs in order”. She tried to talk him out of this. He wrote a long letter to their grown children.

      They went to the garage; set up a card table; and turned the cars on. When they got groggy they got into the car and died in each others arms.

      The housekeeper arrived to a note that told her not to do anything except to call the police. He simply decided that he could not live without her.

      So he didn’t!

      I first heard this story when I was very young. Now I totally understand it!


  8. wendy Says:

    I love the story, but wonder how many would have attended the movie version if it were about an old, long-married couple, rather than two young people who had just met.

  9. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    WENDY —
    …a combo of the two couples…’the long-married’ as well as the couple that had ‘just met’ present the soft-focus, turn up the background-music, lingering movie question:

  10. The tearjerker Titanic Memorial inside Macy’s | Ephemeral New York | First Night History Says:

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  11. ksbeth Says:

    what a lovely story, i had no idea about this. the next time i’m in new york, i will certainly seek out this memorial plaque.

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